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Mary Mastroeni

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Prepping Your Garden in Spring for Summer Bounty – Pt. 2

April 12, 2016 3:04 pm

In our last segment, we discussed the preparation needed to start your own vegetable garden. Returning to a recent blog by Brian Bath of Modern Farmer (modernfarmer.com), let’s dig into more of those steps.

Barth says once the soil in your vegetable garden is dry enough to not squish when you step on it, it’s time to start laying the groundwork for spring planting:

Clean Out: Remove any leftover veggies that didn’t survive the winter and toss them into a compost pile. Pull out any drip irrigation tubes to make way for tilling and planting. If you planted cover crops in the fall, mow them to the ground and then let the stems dry out for a couple weeks before tilling in the debris. If you mulched your beds in fall, rake off the mulch and add it to the compost pile.

Top Up the Fertility: Spread a fresh layer of compost on your beds—Barth suggests one to two inches—and till it in. Add supplementary nutrients like lime (for acidic soils), sulfur (for basic soils), bone meal (for phosphorus), greensand (for potassium), and kelp meal (for micronutrients). Till in the compost and amendments, but only once the soil is dry enough to crumble when you grab a handful. Rake the beds into smooth, ready-to-plant mounds.

Barth also recommends getting a soil test to fine-tune your fertility management strategy. Have the test annually to ensure what you are trying to grow has the best chance of reaping you a bounty.

Many state, county and local agencies, as well as universities, supply low-cost or free soil testing, along with advice on how to alter soil qualities for the veggies you want to grow, or which types of plantings may not do so well in your garden.

Homeowners and gardeners can learn a lot about soils in their own region by consulting the annual soil surveys available through the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service: www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/site/soils/home/.

In our final segment, we'll take a look at a few of the foods you can grow with very limited yard space.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Homeowners: Your Flood Risk May Be Higher Than You Think

April 12, 2016 3:04 pm

The Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) reports less than 15 percent of homeowners and renters have flood insurance—but nine out of 10 natural disasters involve some level of flooding.

“Too few residences are covered by flood insurance policies because many homeowners and renters underestimate their flood risk,” says Jeanne Salvatore, the I.I.I.’s senior vice president for Public Affairs and chief communications officer, noting that 20 percent of all flood claims come from moderate-to-low flood risk areas. “Most Americans should, at the very least, consider acquiring flood insurance because standard homeowners and renters policies do not cover flood-caused damage.”

Flood insurance is available to homeowners and renters from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and a few private insurance companies. Excess flood insurance policies can also be purchased by homeowners seeking coverage above and beyond the basic NFIP policy, which is capped at $250,000 for structural damage and $100,000 for contents. Those residing in a community that does not participate in FEMA’s NFIP also have the option to purchase an excess policy.

“There is a 30-day waiting period between buying an NFIP policy, and when the coverage takes effect, so those residing along the Gulf and Atlantic coastlines may want to act soon, because hurricane season starts on June 1,” Salvatore adds.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) projects elevated risk of moderate flooding in the South and areas along the Missouri River basin this year.

Source: I.I.I.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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The Best (and Worst) Things to Buy in April

April 11, 2016 3:04 pm

Seasonal shoppers save big bucks because they know what goes on sale when, and what purchases to delay until the timing is more favorable. Recent posts on DailyFinance.com and DealNews.com reveal the five best—and worst—things to look for in April:

• Green Goods – Earth Day may be near the end of April, but retailers use the entire month to promote green goodies, offering special deals on organic foods, natural beauty items and other earth-friendly goods for the home and garden.

• Restaurant Freebies – There are some savings available on Tax Day, when many restaurants offer free food incentives, including no-cost appetizers, beverages or desserts when you order a meal. Watch the ads in your local paper for offers in your community.

• Small Kitchen Appliances – Wedding season is around the corner, and the best deals are available now on toasters, coffeemakers, hand mixers, blenders and more.

• Vacuums and Cleaning Supplies – With spring cleaning in mind, prices go down on vacuum cleaners and other hard and soft cleaning goods in April. Look online, as well as in retail shops, for the best buys on the equipment you need.

• Winter Wear – With cold weather on the way out, retailers are clearing out winter clothing and accessories to make room for spring and summer styles. With a little due diligence, you may be able to score clearance winter goods at more than 50 percent off.

Which items should you delay purchasing?

• Grills – It’s tempting to want to start grilling as soon as the weather begins to warm up, but the best buys on grills and grilling gear are in May and June, experts say.

• Mattresses – You’ll start to see them go on sale in April, but the experts recommend waiting until May or June for deeper discounts—sometimes as much as 60 percent off original prices.

• Refrigerators – The new models come out in June, so wait a month and look for sales of as much as 25 percent off on this year’s models then.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Outdoor Renovations Top To-Do List for Homeowners

April 11, 2016 3:04 pm

Break out those hammers, folks! Millions of homeowners are planning to renovate their homes in the next year—36 million, to be exact, according to a recent Bankrate.com survey. The majority of renovations will take place outside of the home, the survey found, including improvements to:

• Driveways
• Decks
• Fencing
• Landscaping
• Patios
• Pools
• Roofing
• Siding

“With more homeowners deciding to make upgrades to their homes this year, it's a sure sign that they're generally feeling more secure about the economy and in the housing market, as well,” says Mike Cetera, Bankrate.com's personal loans and credit analyst.

Millennial homeowners are more likely than others to renovate in the next year, according to the survey—and interestingly, homeowners with lower incomes are just as likely to renovate in the next year as those more flexible budgets.

For homeowners planning to finance a renovation, Cetera recommends considering a home equity loan or home equity line of credit (HELOC). These charge lower interest rates than personal loans, but do require the home as collateral. Cetera also suggests applying for a zero-percent balance transfer credit card, if the homeowner exhibits creditworthiness. 

Source: Bankrate.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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The Dirt on Cleaning: Chores Shared in Many Households

April 11, 2016 3:04 pm

Housework is one of the many responsibilities that come with homeownership—and until recently, women were believed to take on the lion’s share.

“The perception that home care is only women’s work is inaccurate,” says Sarah Peters, global business partner with Nielsen, which recently released results from its Global Homecare Survey that deflate the widely-held notion.

Forty-five percent of respondents to the survey reported men and women either divide chores, or men perform them solo.

Thirty-one percent of respondents reported cleaning and doing laundry daily. One of those tasks, however, falls on women’s shoulders more often than men’s. Forty-four percent of respondents to the survey reported women doing the majority of the cleaning; 28 percent reported sharing the responsibility.

The survey also explored the motivators behind purchases related to housework, revealing a notable trend: environmentally-friendly products matter. A significant portion of respondents to the survey reported a preference for cleaning products that are organic and/or all-natural, with sustainable packaging and high-efficiency capabilities that consume less resources.

Source: Nielsen

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7 Quick Ways to De-Stress

April 8, 2016 3:04 pm

Too many of us put relaxation on hold, despite knowing stress management is crucial for good health. Would you take the time to de-stress more often if there were quick ways to do so? Personal trainers and life coaches suggest seven ways worth considering:
 
1. Keep a Journal –Writing is ideal for mental clarity because it makes you think out issues and reflect on what’s happening in your life. Writing in a daily journal for 10 minutes each evening can relax you, and even help you sleep better.
 
2. Go to the Movies by Yourself – If you can manage it, think about it: it gets you away from everything and everyone, you’re not allowed to talk, and you have to silence your cell phone. Perfect.
 
3. Go for a Walk – Even a short walk around your home or office can help put the world in perspective. Walk at a moderate pace and do your best to observe and appreciate the sights and sounds along the way.
 
4. Take a Breath – Three minutes of slow, deep breathing can do wonders for clearing your mind, improving your focus and easing your daily stress.
 
5. Do Something You Like – Take a warm bath or a 20-minute power nap. Phone a friend you haven’t talked to in a while. Treat yourself to your favorite snack (especially if it’s dark chocolate.) Be kind to your body just for a little bit and feel the difference in your stress level.
 
6. Listen to Music – Listening to soothing music, even for 10 or 15 minutes, slows your breathing and heart rate, lowers blood pressure and relaxes tense muscles.
 
7. Create a Relaxation Space – Even a designated chair in your office can be your go-to space. Keep some magazines, crossword puzzles or a book of poems nearby, but leave your phone behind and don’t answer it while you are in your space.

Have you done any of the above to combat stress? What other ways do you unwind?

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Going Solar? Resources for Homeowners

April 8, 2016 3:04 pm

A growing number of homeowners are powering their homes with solar energy—in fact, rooftop solar power grew over 60 percent in the last year. Considering solar for your home? Consult these resources from the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC):

Be Solar Smart Checklist
www.IRECUSA.org/consumer/checklist.pdf

The IREC’s Be Solar Smart Checklist outlines questions consumers should ask themselves and other parties involved in the process in order to assure a fair deal and safe installation.

Clean Energy Consumer Bill of Rights
www.IRECUSA.org/consumer/bill-of-rights.pdf

The IREC’s Clean Energy Consumer Bill of Rights lays out the standards consumers should expect from parties involved in the process. It addresses issues such as advertising, contractual transparency, privacy, safety, warranties, and more.

Resources are available from other organizations in the industry, as well. This information, found at www.IREACUSA.org/consumer-protection/consumer-resources/, includes:

• Residential Consumer Guide to Solar Power (Solar Energy Industries Association)

• “When Going Solar, Should You Lease or Buy? The Pros, Cons and Costs of Installing a Solar Photovoltaic System” (Consumer Reports)

• A Homeowner’s Guide to Solar Financing: Leases, Loans and PPAs (Clean Energy States Alliance and the Department of Energy’s Sunshot Initiative)

• Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) (North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center)

• North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP)

“After a home, a solar system could be one of the biggest investments a consumer makes,” says Shannon Baker-Branstetter, policy counsel for Energy and Environment, Consumer Reports. “It's important for consumers to have independent information to guide them through the process to make sure reality meets their expectations and benefits of installing solar are realized.”

Source: Interstate Renewable Energy Council, Inc. (IREC)

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Prepping Your Garden in Spring for Summer Bounty – Pt. 1

April 8, 2016 3:04 pm

Spring is here, and thousands of homeowners across the country are eyeballing their starter plants, heading to garden centers and plotting out where and what they'll be planting this year.

If you're a little late in launching plans for a home garden, experts say the coming weeks are the best time to get started. The good news is, with little effort and the right equipment, you can enjoy its beauty and harvest, whether in a garden compact enough for a corner of a deck or patio, or one expansive enough to grow food that sustains your family virtually year-round.

According to Brian Bath of “Modern Farmer” (modernfarmer.com), now’s the time to take your gas-powered equipment in for a seasonal tune-up and cleaning. While your power equipment is getting primed for work, Barth says to dig into a thorough check of your hand and digging tools:

• Sand off any rust using steel wool, use a sharpening stone to restore a sharp edge to the blades, and coat the blades and moving parts with a light penetrating oil. (A local hardware store will often offer these services if you’re not up for the task, Barth says.)

• Break the handle on a shovel or digging fork last year? If it’s a good quality tool, it’s worth buying a new handle and replacing it, rather than tossing the whole thing in a landfill. Some gardeners go so far as to sharpen the digging blade of their shovels with a coarse file each year, but at the very least, wash off any accumulated dirt, dry down the blade, and spray it with penetrating oil to ward off rust.

In our next segment, we'll dig into prepping your vegetable garden!

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Millennials Look beyond Urban Areas When Putting Down Roots

April 8, 2016 10:40 am

The 2016 National Association of REALTORS® Home Buyer and Seller Generational Trends study revealed that more millennials are purchasing single-family houses outside of urban areas than ever before. In fact, millennials represented 35 percent of all buyers compared to 26 percent from Generation X, and 9 percent from the Silent Generation.
 
The numbers show that millennials buying in an urban or central city area decreased to 17 percent from 21 percent a year ago, and the younger the buyer, the older the home they purchased.
 
“The median age of a millennial homebuyer is 30 years old, which typically is the time in life where one settles down to marry and raise a family,” says Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist. “Even if an urban setting is where they’d like to buy their first home, the need for more space at an affordable price is for the most part pushing their search further out.”
 
While the number of millennial renters continues to climb in urban areas, the generation is choosing elsewhere when making the move to buy. This decision is boosted by price, limited inventory and the need for space.
 
Appealing to the millennial buyer starts in a digital world. It’s important that your home is shown on the Internet in the best way possible. This includes plenty of photos, creative language and that special something to make it all stand out.
 
The survey showed that almost all millennial house hunters used the Internet and a real estate agent during the home search process, most likely turning to a mobile device or tablet when conducting a search. 
 
Millennials are said to be tech-savvy and big believers in multi-tasking. In addition, they thrive on instant gratification and are said to have shorter attention spans. Inside the home, millennials are impressed with entertainment rooms over dining rooms, and offices over extra bedrooms. They care about technology and environmentally friendly fixtures, so highlight those in your materials.
 
Many are just starting to have children, so make sure your agent has information about nearby pre-schools and family-friendly activities in the neighborhood.
 
And since many are buying a home for the first time, it’s important to provide information about mortgages, taxes and insurance issues. You’ll also want to have checklists prepared that your agent can easily email.
 
If you’re truly looking to attract millennial buyers, stage the home with unique furniture. You could also bring in some millennials and ask their honest opinion in regard to the house and what’s in it. If there are certain items that they feel are old-fashioned, it’s a good bet that their opinion will be shared by others.
 
At a time when millennials are gobbling up houses like never before, make sure you do all you can to attract them to your home.
 
Contact our office today for more information about attracting millennial buyers.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Shining a Light on Showing Safety: Protect Your Valuables

April 8, 2016 10:40 am

Selling your home can be a time-consuming process, especially when it comes to cleaning and organizing before last-minute showings. While it may seem as if your to-do list is a mile long, it’s important to take the time to secure your valuables before prospective buyers come to view your home.
 
With any showing or open house, you never know exactly who will be walking through your house and looking at your things. While your agent will do his or her best to make sure nothing is taken, remember that they can’t have their eyes on everyone in the house at all times, making it important to take a few safeguards to ensure that your most priceless belongings are safe.
 
This includes everything from a valuable piece of jewelry you keep in the bedroom, an antique pen you have on your desk or even an old toy that might attract a collector’s eye.
 
The easiest way to protect your stuff is to simply get it out of the house and keep it in the home of a loved one, or, for rare and expensive items, a bank deposit box.
 
If that’s not an option, find a place within the home to hide valuable belongings, or keep them in a suitcase that you can bring with you every time you leave the house.
 
Safety steps like these should also be considered for personal information and file cabinets that may contain papers with various account numbers and/or social security information. And don’t forget medicine cabinets, as this is often an area that people like to steal from.
 
When leaving before a showing, make sure all doors and windows are locked, and be sure they’re still locked when you return. Prospective buyers may open windows or doors to make sure they work, or to see another part of the home, and while it may seem far-fetched, there have been incidents where people unlock doors when looking at a home and go back later to steal things.
 
Real estate agents have also noted another tactic that involves people coming to the house multiple times, bringing a new person with them to explore rooms when the agent is being distracted. This person could then go about taking items that may have been seen earlier.
 
Taking this one step further, you may want to think about investing in an alarm system—if you don’t already have one. Not only will an alarm deter burglars from entering your home, the addition of an alarm system can be used as a strong selling point.
 
For those selling a house that they’re not currently living in, you might want to consider installing motion light sensors that turn on automatically when it gets dark. You can also put a few lamps on a timer so that it appears as if someone is home.
 
Reach out to your neighbors and ask them to keep an eye out for anything suspicious, and introduce them to your agent as well.
 
To learn more about protecting your valuables, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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